Archive for the 'Essays' Category

If Red Delicious Were A Person

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

You spot her well before you talk to her.  She’s wearing a slinky (red) dress, and she has an amazing figure, knockout gorgeous, and you stare at her, even though you don’t mean to.

She notices, across the crowded room, that your eyes follow her wherever she goes, and she pussyfoots over to you in that tight little number and introduces herself in a husky voice, “Hi, I’m Red… Red Delicious.”  You realize that you’re practically drooling, and you don’t even mind that when she shook your hand, she only gave your fingers a nerveless little squeeze.

You’ve already heard of her, she gets around, she has a reputation as a bit of a limp fish.  She just looks so darned good, you don’t want to believe the spiteful things that others have said.  You can scarcely believe your good luck when you hear her suggesting, “Why don’t you take me home with you?”  The next thing you know, you’re clambering into her convertible with the top down, heading for your home.  You think it cute that she drives 25 mph, no matter the posted speed limit.

Once you arrive, you only make it as far as the kitchen before you’re clutching at her, stripping away that shiny, sequined number to reveal milky white skin, and it excites you so much that you don’t even notice, at least not at first, that she is completely devoid of muscle tone, soft, mushy, almost doughy to the touch.

You run her through her paces with vigor and excitement, trying all the positions you can think of.  You eat her on a plate, you toss her in a salad, you bake her in a pie, and mash her into sauce.  And in between those experiments, you still love to look at her.  You admire her figure, wrapped away in that tight little dress, and enjoy her sleek exterior.

But when it comes time to sit at the table, you always know something is missing and your mind flits back to the good times you had with Pippin, Mutsu, and even that old sourpuss Granny Smith.  Every meal you ate with them had flair.  Sure, they weren’t much to look at, but they had personality!  They had something to say.

So you ask Red her thoughts on politics, on the environment, on the state of education today.  She just giggles and says in that rasping voice you thought was so sexy when you first met, “Try me, I’m Delicious!”  And at that moment you realize, it’s all a show, it’s all a front, she has no depth of character.  She doesn’t even really taste good, she just hides behind that name and her svelte appearance and uses them as a disguise.

So you tell her it’s just not working out, she doesn’t have what you’re looking for.  She doesn’t understand at first, or at least pretends not to.  “I’m Delicious!”  She protests, “You’ll never find another who looks as good as I do.  I’m Red Delicious!”  But you stand firm and she leaves eventually, tears staining her mascara.

You see her sometimes, in movies and on TV.  You even ran into her at the store once and she tried to climb into your cart, saying, “Remember those good times we had?”  But you’ve moved on, you’re over her.  You’re visiting the orchards and entertaining Lodi, Empire, Grimes Golden, and Gala.  You even flirted with Arkansas Black for a while, and had a brief affair with a Northern Spy.  They might not look so sleek or so slender, but when it comes down to it, they’ve got taste, which is more than you can say for that little hussy of a temptress who took you for a bland, boring ride.

Attacking the Pantry Moths

Monday, August 10th, 2009

The little buggers are insidious.  They’re small; their larvae are tiny; and their eggs are miniscule, though encased in a spider-web-like casing.  If you see just one moth, anticipate that you have an infestation.

Aurora and I have known that we had some pantry moths hiding in our cupboard for at least a few months now.  If I really thought about it, I’d probably realize that it’s been going on quite a bit longer than that, which would be an embarrassing thing to admit, so I’m not going to try to be any more specific.  Suffice to say, whenever we opened the doors to grab something, a couple or three of them would flutter out toward us.  We’d curse at them, swat at them, and occasionally kill them.  Not that killing a couple or three makes any sort of real difference.

‘Where are they hiding?’, we’d ask each other.  We’d root through the supplies and find a few things that harbored them: a container of dried fruit with a cracked lid; an open bag of beans; the pasta that we thought we were going to cook for dinner.  We’d get rid of those items and prematurely congratulate ourselves ‘Well, that should take care of things.’  And the next time we’d open the door, three or four would flutter out at us.  We’d curse at them, swat at them, and the cycle would continue.

Saturday morning, I woke up feeling productive and tackled a list of chores.  So did Aurora.  And when we were done with everything we set out to do, Aurora suggested that it was time to call it quits and do something fun.  “Nope,” I said, dragging a stool over to the infested cupboard.  “It’s time to clean everything out of here and get rid of those damned moths once and for all.”

This seems a good time to interject that our friend Mike is staying with us as a short-term house guest, and I’m glad to report that he is a good sport.  He rolled up his sleeves and pitched in, too.  If you’re having a problem with pantry moths, I highly recommend inviting a good friend to stay with you for a while, and then springing the task on them once they’re already comfortably settled into the spare bedroom with their return flight booked for some days hence.  This is a nitty-gritty, unpleasant, detailed task and having an extra set of hands and eyes can make a huge difference.

It quickly became apparent as I was pulling the bags, jars, and canisters from the shelf that the infestation went deeper than we had realized.  Handing the peanut butter and the tahini to Aurora: “gross–they’re in the groove below the lid to the jars!” and the jars went into the trash.

Handing a canister of beans to Mike, “They’re definitely in here!” He held up a jar that bore an uncanny resemblance to an ant farm.  And into the trash it went.

A brand new bag of sugar to Aurora.  “This looks oka….wait, no, they’re hiding in the folds at the top of the bag.”  It made a loud thunk as it also got deposited in the refuse bin.

An empty canister to Mike.  “This should be okay,” he predicted.  But pulling off the lid, he wrinkled his nose.  “Nope.  They’re living in the grooves where the lid seals on.”  The trash bag was filling up quickly.

“This feels so wasteful,” complained Aurora.  And she was right.  All sorts of food products, all sorts of recyclables, all headed straight to the landfill.  “Isn’t there something we could do with this stuff?” she asked.

“Like what?” I countered, “inflict this infestation on Goodwill shoppers and the food bank?”  To do so would be even more wasteful.  We took the first bag out to the trash can and started in on a second.

Once the cupboards had been emptied, I started scrubbing down the shelves.  Egg casings and carcasses hid in the smallest corners, the smallest cracks.  When I thought I was done cleaning, I looked again and found them in spots that didn’t exist.  It was tough to get my rag into those places to eliminate the traces, but I did the best I could.

While I was doing that, Aurora and Mike had brought all of our mason jars up from the basement and were transferring everything that had passed a sight inspection into them.  “If we missed anything,” Aurora proclaimed, “At least everything will be isolated and well-sealed.”

Then, out came the spray bottle of bleach solution and I sprayed down every shelf, every corner, every cranny and nook—twice—and let the shelves air dry.  Finally, we had a break to do something fun; but two games of Yahtzee later, we back in the kitchen preparing to put the stuff away.

And wouldn’t you know, on the third and fourth inspections, containers we had previously proclaimed to be moth free turned out to have subtle signs of infestations.  We had to start in on a third (or was it fourth?) bag of trash.  But by the time we were done, though our cupboards seemed bare, we were able to proclaim with a high degree of confidence that those buggers had been licked.

We think.  And hope.  We’ve got no interest in enduring a sequel.

Your Goose Is Cooked!

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

All I knew about roast goose before I roasted mine was a story that my dad tells from time to time about how when he was a kid, his cousin (Janet, I think, if I remember correctly) visited from college, and his dad decided to spit-roast a goose in her honor.

The story:

I obviously wasn’t around for the meal, but I can imagine the preparations that went into it.  Lew probably measured the heat at various intervals from the coals to determine exactly where the bird should be placed, and had several heights pre-arranged with holes drilled into a piece of sheet metal in case the bird needed to be moved while it cooked.  He had probably measured the goose to determine its exact center of gravity, and skewered it so that it would turn on a precise rotation.  And, the turning mechanism for the skewer was probably an old turntable that had been co-opted for the purpose of cooking outdoors.


‘Local Challenge’ to the Co-Op: Remove Fiji H2O

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

Pittsburgh’s East End Food Co-Op has issued a challenge to Pittsburghers: eat as local as possible for one month, from July 15–August 15. “It’s an honor system-based [challenge]; those wishing to participate will simply sign a large poster at the Co-Op and try their best.” For the purpose of the challenge, they define local as being within 100 miles. To encourage participation and help participants along, the Co-Op is inviting people to enjoy a potluck recipe swap and celebration of local fare every Wednesday during the challenge, starting at 7:00 PM. The first event will be on July 16.

I doubt the Co-Op will be distributing Fiji at these events, but should a local food challenge participant wish to, he or she could quite easily wash down their spinach salad, sauteed kale, local-beef loaf, and berry cobbler with a bottle of Fiji water purchased from the Co-Op’s shelf. In other words, you could wash down a 100-mile meal with a 7600-mile beverage.

I have complained to the Co-Op about the presence of this non-local product on the shelf of our local food co-op, and how the very idea of a substance as basic as water being shipped halfway around the world is in violation of the concepts upon which the co-op is built. I received a reply on the topic in October from Mark D. Perry, the Co-Op’s merchandising manager:


Going Old-Fangled with My Wafflemaker

Saturday, April 26th, 2008

Most people who know me know about my obsession with cast iron—it’s sturdy (will last for generations), versatile (equally good on electric, gas, or campfire), almost as non-stick as teflon without the risk of its surface coating flaking off into your food, and economical (many fine specimens are available at antique stores and flea markets for $30 or less).

Still, when I bought my cast iron wafflemaker it was, in my mind, a curiosity piece: an unusual specimen from a bygone era. After all, I had a perfectly good wafflemaker that plugs into the wall and heats predictably, whereas the cast iron piece would have to sit on my burner and would only get heated on one side. As I purchased it, I decided it was a good thing that Aurora wasn’t with me because she probably would have vetoed the $50 price tag (even if she does on occasion talk me into buying pieces of cast iron that I’m on the fence about).

Once I got it home, I discovered how well-designed this antique actually is.


Six Word Memoir

Friday, April 4th, 2008

Normally, I don’t tend to participate in chain letters, chain emails, or chain gangs. But technically, this is a chain blog, so it doesn’t fit into my pre-established rules. Tommy at Macerating Shallots sent me an email out of the blue challenging me to post a six-word memoir and suggesting that I pass the challenge along to five other web loggers. Something about the challenge intrigued me–is it really possible, I wondered, to sum up my life thus far in only six words?

Actually, yes—it was surprisingly easy. So, here goes—my six word memoir is:

I’ve always enjoyed a good meal.

Photo credits: Jim Sharrard

One-Handed Grapefruit Spoons

Tuesday, September 25th, 2007

I know I’m a bit off-season with this, as it will still be a couple of months for grapefruits to come back around. But, it’s not too early to think about them—or the discriminatory silverware policy in place at Williams-Sonoma.

Williams-Sonoma makes perhaps the best grapefruit spoon I have ever used. My father and sister, on the other hand, will never be able to use it because for some inexplicable reason, Williams-Sonoma has toothed this spoon on only one side. As a result, southpaws cannot use this spoon without putting themselves through considerable contortions.

I first contacted Williams-Sonoma about this matter in 2005, at which time I noted in my letter to them that their 2004 annual report lamented, “we may not be able to reposition existing brands to improve business” (33). I pointed out to them that a simple re-toothing of the spoon so that both sides are serrated could increase their potential market for that particular product considerably. I never heard back.

Two years later, the spoons are still the same. Narrow and well-proportioned to get every piece of the grapefruit section out, but only if you are right handed. Their 2007 annual report declares, “Our success depends, in large part, upon our ability to anticipate and respond in a timely manner to… customer demands” (10). Well, if you’re a lefty who likes grapefruits or are friend or family to someone who fits that description, let them know that as a customer, you demand citrus equality! Write W. Howard Lester, Chairman of the Board & CEO; and Laura J. Abler, President at Williams-Sonoma, 3520 Van Ness Avenue, San Fransisco, CA 94109.

Man Eating Corn

Thursday, September 13th, 2007

I was lucky enough to be able to leave work a bit early today.  When I got to the corner where I wait to see which of my two buses will get there first, I had some time to sit and wait.  The sun was still high enough in the sky that it beamed down on me from above the buildings.  I sat on the narrow platform at the base of the metal lamppost in my jacket and tie feeling very much the rustic cosmopolitan on my improvised bench.

To complete the ensemble, I reached into my messenger bag to pull out an ear of roasted corn, a leftover from last night’s dinner that I’d neglected to eat at lunch.  I’d not even completed a single row—for that’s how I eat corn, in typewriter rows—when a woman waiting to cross the street turned to me and said, “You tryin’ to share?  “Cause you tearin’ it up.  That’s makin’ my mouth water.”

I hadn’t gotten a third of the way through when a college-aged girl coming in the opposite direction asked me, “Where you get corn on the cob in town?” and was disappointed to hear that I hadn’t.  “Man,” she said, “I want me some.”
I was about halfway done when a third woman whom I’d seen watching me eat from a block away stopped and asked me where I’d bought it.  “I think people would eat that, you know,” she told me, “because that looks good.”

I suggested that maybe she should talk to the hot dog vendor on the next block.  She shook her head, dropped her voice to a whisper and shielded it from the watchful eyes of any lip-reading passersby who might happen to be behind her.  “I wouldn’t eat from him,” she hissed, “He looks pretty dirty.”

As I finished my corn, a mustachioed man in a Kenny Chesney t-shirt paused quickly before hopping into the passenger seat of a red SUV that had pulled over to get him.  He flashed a quick grin my way.  “That sure do look good,” he said, and with that he slammed closed the door and the car was gone.

My one bus came before the other, I saw it approaching from my right.  I quickly tossed the cob back into my bag to take home for my compost and dashed the half block down the street to the stop, arriving slightly after the bus did, but just as its back door was opening.  The man eating corn was no more.

I Invited Some Vegetables Out For Dinner

Sunday, September 9th, 2007

I invited some vegetables out for dinner and a baseball game the other day and they were happy.

…until they learned my true intentions. “You barbaric beast!” they chided me, but I would hear none of it. And neither would they, once I took their ears of corn.

The vegetables huddled together to discuss their options. Being vegetables, they could think of few.

Garlic made a run for it, but he didn’t get very far before I caught him.

I dragged him over hot coals. He gave up his accomplices.

The ones he ratted out made life tough for Garlic on the inside.

The tomatoes and the tomatillos attempted to form an alliance, but their will was soft and they were easily divided.

Their blood was spilt and their rebellion came to nothing, but these poor fruits did not die in vain. The components (cooked, peeled, and chopped to pieces) returned to life as a roasted vegetable salsa that we, in accordance with PNC Park policy brought with us in a soft-sided cooler to the baseball game (dramatization).

Aurora and I relished every moment we spent with the vegetables’ reincarnated self as we cheered the Pirates on to a 6-1 routing of the Cubs.

National Waffle Day: August 24

Thursday, August 23rd, 2007

Tomorrow is National Waffle Day! What a great holiday–I’m surprised I’d never heard of it before this year, seeing as I am such a big fan of waffles. The obscure holiday celebrates the anniversary of the first American waffle iron patent.

Cornelius Swarthout of Troy, NY received his patent on August 24, 1869—but that’s not to say that he invented the waffle or even the first waffle iron. Mr. Breakfast has a wonderful history of waffles included on his description of National Waffle Day. And while you’re at it, check out his 10 tips for making perfect waffles, all of which are important points. As far as tip #4 goes (don’t overmix), I feel as if Mr. Breakfast’s description of how to fold the egg whites could use some clarification, so as quoted from my recipe for savory waffles with stir-fried vegetables and mustard sauce, here are better how-to hints for making sure you don’t overmix:

“Fold the batter into the beaten egg whites with a rubber spatula, using a twisting motion with your wrist to bring the contents from the bottom of the bowl up and over to the top. Be careful not to stir the mixture because that will lead to your egg whites deflating, causing a more runny texture to your batter than is ideal. Continue until the batter has uniform consistency.”

So, armed with this new knowledge of waffle-making, get out there and make some waffles. Once you get the egg white beating and folding technique down in the relatively low-key realm of waffledom, you’ll be ready to tackle souffles. I’ll try to make one next week and have my lovely wife take some photographs of the process…